Brandi Bradley was born in Bells, Tennessee and raised by a rodeo clown and a snake-oil salesman. Her work has appeared in Juked, the Lincoln Humanities Journal, and Louisiana Literature. She is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University. For more information visit brandibradley.com.
Brandi’s essay “Good Ole Boys Like Me” will appear in the Winter 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, January 13, for special savings.
In "Good Ole Boys Like Me," you work hard to paint a picture of the different lives that revolve around the life of your father. How did you go about deciding what to put in this story and what to leave out?
The first draft of this personal essay was considerably longer. When writing about something from real life, all the details seem important because they all really happened and I felt pressure to explain all the aspects of my complicated family. I knew that people who read it might have questions about how my father could end up in that type of situation. I wrote it like an essay, but I edited it like a short story. I also have great first readers who push me to be ruthless about cutting pages worth of material.
The title of your story is based off of the title of a Don Williams song of the same name. What relationship does your writing have to country music, and how has your relationship to this genre influenced your writing?
Growing up, I was surrounded by musicians and songwriters, so I was raised on country music the way other kids might have been raised on gospel music. Country music was everywhere, all the time. Either we were going to hear someone play music or we were listening to it in the car on the way to do something else.
Country music has incredible narratives about high-drama situations: adventure, crumbling marriages, tragic accidents, murder, and—my favorite high-drama narrative—the cost of ambition. When you are raised listening to high drama, that influences the types of stories you are drawn to and the ones you want to tell.
Your story has a very distinctive rural feel, and in your bio you identify as someone "raised by a rodeo clown and snake-oil salesman." Rural backdrops can provide intriguing locations for a non-rural readership, but these types of stories can also invite expectations, just or unjust, from the readership as well. How much do you think about the audience when writing a story, and does the divide between urban and rural in any way instruct your writing?
I think about the urban/rural divide a lot. I grew up on a farm around musicians, rodeo people, and the best saleswoman Friendly Frank’s Flea Market has ever seen. And instead of backing my truck up to the same fence post as everyone else, I had this drive for the literary life. Often kids that grow up in rural areas will move to urban areas and immediately ditch their accent. I was no different. Around the time the essay takes place, I was coming to terms with the fact that I needed to stop pretending to be something other than who I was. My development in a rural area shaped me. I stopped hiding my accent. I bought a pair of boots. I started writing stories set in rural areas and inspired by people from my past. And that was when my writing improved, and when more people became interested in what I was writing.